Republican legislators are privately drawing new political maps for Kentucky with hopes of quickly passing them into law early next year.
The once-a-decade redistricting process is especially tumultuous this time around because data from the 2020 Census came out late due to the pandemic, and Kentucky lawmakers recently moved the deadline for candidates to file to run for office up to the first week of January.
That combination of factors means candidates — including incumbent lawmakers seeking reelection — won’t know what their districts look like unless the new maps are passed into law within the first four days of next year’s legislative session. The session starts on Jan. 4 and the filing deadline is Jan. 7.
But leaders of the Republican-led legislature say they will likely pass a bill delaying the filing deadline as soon as the session starts — giving candidates more time to see what their districts will look like.
In the meantime, Republicans have already started drafting the maps behind closed doors.
Republican House Speaker David Osborne wouldn’t say how much the filing deadline would move, but said he wants to make sure candidates have enough time to know what district they’re in.
“The map will be ready when the map’s ready,” Osborne said. “It’s a mathematical formula that takes a lot of thought and takes a lot of hard work and effort. To rush it would be inappropriate.”
The redistricting process takes place every ten years to account for shifts in population that show up in the decennial Census. Legislators have to make sure Kentucky’s population of 4.5 million people is evenly split among the 100 state House districts, 38 state Senate districts and 6 congressional districts.
With huge majorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans will be entirely in control of Kentucky’s redistricting process for the first time in state history.
But the process will likely be a challenge for the party’s leaders in the legislature. The maps will have to account for population loss in rural eastern and western Kentucky over the last ten years, possibly by consolidating the number of districts in those heavily-Republican regions.
Osborne wouldn’t say if the new maps will force incumbents to run against each other, but knowing the exact shape of districts will be critical for legislators seeking reelection.
The entire House, half the Senate and all congressional seats will be up for grabs in elections next year.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers renewed his call for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to call a special legislative session for lawmakers to tackle redistricting ahead of the new year.
“We need to get it done. We need to be called in before the session starts,” Stivers said. “We need to be focused on the budget, number one policy document, not being somewhat distracted by redistricting and all the things that go with it.”
Lawmakers will have to write a new two-year budget during the upcoming session. Beshear has not signaled he will call a special session to deal with redistricting ahead of time. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Democratic House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins said she hasn’t seen any of the draft maps yet and she’s concerned there won’t be enough time for public input.
“It doesn’t give them time to find the best candidate to represent them to put forth as their party’s nominee,” Jenkins said. “I think it’s important we don’t rush this. It’s a big part of Democracy — who we elect to represent us in the statehouse and in local government.”
Republicans currently control 75 out of 100 seats in the state House, 30 out of 38 seats in the state Senate and 5 out of 6 congressional seats.
The League of Women Voters has called for the legislature to be more transparent about redistricting and has pushed for lawmakers to create an independent commission to advise on the process, but the effort hasn’t gained traction.
Kentucky’s last round of redistricting took several years to complete. Initial maps were struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2012 for having too many population disparities between districts and dividing too many counties.
Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that Gov. Andy Beshear’s office did not respond to a request for comment.